Sunday 7 July 2013

If You Go Down To The Woods Today...

I had a very interesting day out of the office this week at the transport research laboratory in the woodlands of sunny (nearly) berkshire. 

The purpose of my visit was to take part in the 'Safer Cycling Innovations' trials which TRL are undertaking for Transport for London. The trouble is, I am not allowed to tell you too much because the trials are undertaken blind (no, not with eyes covered!). 

I wasn't allowed to take photos and when I made a sketch of the road layout to use as a talking point in the office, a very worried member of TRL staff asked me not to tell people too much in case they were attending the trials and the results would be skewed by people knowing what to expect. As much as a I really want to post a sketch of what I saw, I have to be professional and respect TRL's wishes as the things they are trying have a real possibility of moving out of the lab (OK, a big outdoors lab) onto the streets of London.

Low level signals. Image from TRL.
Essentially, you are briefed to follow the instructions of the (very well organised) marshals and that is it - you do not know what to expect, you just take the road layout as you find it. 

On the day, I was cycling and TRL was basically testing low level cycle signals (that much I can tell you). I didn't see the Dutch style roundabout they are testing, but they were putting the finishing touches to a bus stop cycle bypass which looks quite interesting.

Low level signals would allow "early start" at junctions whereby cyclists get a green before traffic or provide cycle-specific movements through junctions or at crossings.

A 'Boris' bike. Image Wikipedia.
Apart from being able to play with new layouts, I also got my first go at riding a London Cycle Hire ('Boris') Bike and I was pleasantly surprised. The thing weighs a tonne, but it rides really smoothly, the three-speed gear shift is flawless and the step-through design is something I would be keen on having for my next commuter bike!

OK, so not an interesting blog, I know, but after the bad news last week of the government doing bugger all for walking and cycling in its spending review, it wonderful to be able to report on a positive thing which is going to make the lives of those cycling better and indeed safer and could be the innovations the UK needs to be able to provide layouts that people who don't cycle will be happy to use.

Make no mistake, the scale of the trials show that TfL is serious about taking the government on (through the Department for Transport) to get things like low level cycle signals approved for use on UK roads as they will enable much for flexibility in how streets are designed. However, it is quite sad that it is TfL which has tried to take infrastructure forward and not the government providing the leadership and commissioning the trials itself - still, no real surprise there!


  1. OK, so not an interesting blog, I know,

    Actually it is an interesting post - I almost did that trial myself - got an email from TRL, phoned them up as requested to say I'd like to do that trial but got an answering machine and no return call - so I'm interested to hear at least a bit about what was going on, even if no details.

  2. I think the staff dealing with the trial have been swamped by interest and I found I had to chase a bit. They are still running trials - the next is next week, but I have a full diary at work :-(

  3. One of the biggest obstacles to mass cycling in the UK that isn't being addressed is the way successful countries categorise their roads.
    We practically encourage arterial use of all roads including residential ones. The Dutch stop it. This has a 2-fold effect. Firstly, residential roads become safe to cycle and walk on (especially for kids - playing too). Secondly, the resultant loss of arterial network and subsequent increased cost (in time & effort) to drive has the opposite effect of induced demand and actively reduces the amount of total traffic which has a knock-on effect everywhere.
    This focus simply on arterial routes (which is going to be a huge struggle to get done in the UK anyway) will be to no avail if this other issue is ignored.

  4. Well, exactly. I recently discussed requests for rat runs to be closed to traffic in some residential areas with the highways committee at work and the political view was that this would shift congestion onto the main roads. You couldn't make it up!